This installment: disappearances in rural Russia (f); surrealistic Nigerian short stories (f); a psychological thriller (); a brilliant documentary about McQueen (DVD); an in depth study of women’s love lives (nf); and the mess a proposed new school wreaks in a coddled community (f).
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
The Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia is a strange, desolate region on the edge of Alaska and Japan. When two young girls get a ride from which they never return, fear permeates the villagers. As the months go by we meet many who were affected, including a writer, a student who joins a folkloric dance troupe, and ultimately an indigenous fellow who hones in on the perpetrator. Atmospheric, brooding, fascinating.
What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Surrealistic short stories from a writer with Nigerian roots who now lives in Minneapolis. The one that haunts me (which I read a while ago in some compendium): the woman who makes a baby out of hair clippings that then develops a fierce appetite for her mama. Lots of meanness and fierce survival in these tales, disturbing and intriguing. Local color to the max.
An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
A definitely tricksy plot featuring a psychiatric “study” that turns out to be a psychiatrist’s plan to entrap her unfaithful husband. A make-up artist short on cash is enticed by the offer and gets in deep with generous stipends and mystifying set-ups. Supposedly exploring moral dimensions, the shrink has learned her traumatic secret and source of ongoing guilt which she uses as a lever. But the hubby himself—another source of danger. A bit “constructed” but it was like watching a deliciously scary movie.
I’ve studied a richly illustrated book about this extraordinary clothing designer and tortured visionary, but film brings him to life (and death) and the amazing trajectory in between. Spotty schooling, modest beginnings, and incredible drive catapulted him into Paris ateliers. Smashed relationships along the way, transformations that didn’t bring him happiness (like liposuction) and with a diagnosis of HIV-positive, it was all over too soon by his own hand. The faces and voices of friends, family, lovers, and fashionistas all build an indelible portrait and Michael Nyman’s extraordinary score underscores the emotional buildup. An exquisite, heart-breaking documentary.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
The author found these subjects who were willing to let her into the depths of their stories for an extended time period. It’s about what havoc “love” can wreak in women’s lives. Maggie had a crush on her high school teacher. He acted on it, in spades, then threw her over when his wife found out. It essentially derailed her life and the court case which found this Teacher of the Year not guilty (oh those clever lawyers) didn’t help. Lina’s husband won’t engage with her sexually so she turns to her high-school heart-throb many years later; he’s a pig but he turns her on, and on, and on. Sophisticated upper-class Sloane and her husband have an open relationship but it gets weird and ugly and she feels used. Shame, power, social judgments all torture these women, and books like Twilight and the Shades of Gray series don’t help. A hard book to read but fascinating which is why I stuck it out.
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
You want precious, liberal, beautiful? That describes Crystal, Colorado, and the proposed school wreaks havoc with anxious parents, especially a foursome of mothers who met when their babies were small. And it also divides the community at large which questions why the regular “gifted” programs in their already excellent schools aren’t good enough. Strong women, not-so-hot husbands, attempts to fiddle with test scores and wield influence with the mysterious admissions process. It’s a nest of snakes—and my schadenfreude meter was pulsating with pleasure. A little over the top but very entertaining. A particularly fascinating character: a Peruvian immigrant boy who’s brilliant at origami and whose family cleans the houses of the rich locals.
Back next week.